I started writing this post and realized- for once, I don’t have a lot to say. But that’s OK; the following is all you need to know: A small venison roast, some local root vegetables from the farmers’ market, some homemade stock, and a weekend day with enough time for a long braise can yield the following:
I don’t often get roasts from my dad, usually his venison is in burger form, so this was a first. I just treated it like I would any other tough cut of meat, braising it for a while in the stock at a low temp and then adding the vegetables later so they didn’t cook to mush. The result wasn’t earth-shattering. but it was homey, comforting and hearty, which was just what I was going for.
Venison Stew with Root Vegetables
1 small venison roast (about 1.5 to 2 lbs)
a few Tbs bacon fat
2 cups stock, preferably homemade: beef, lamb or chicken will work (mine was actually turkey, leftover from Thanksgiving)
aromatics: a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, juniper berries, or a couple sprigs of rosemary or thyme would all work
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled & cut into chunks
5-6 small shallots, peeled & trimmed
4 small potatoes, scrubbed and cut in halves or quarters
1 celery stalk, trimmed & cut into ½-inch pieces
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 225°. Warm the stock on the stove in a heavy lidded pot large enough to accommodate the meat. Rinse the venison and pat dry; lightly salt the meat and rub all over with the bacon fat. Add venison to pot, cover, and braise in the oven for 2 hours. You can turn the meat halfway through, but it’s not strictly necessary. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables. After the initial 2 hours, lightly salt the vegetables, add to the pot, cover, and cook for another hour or until vegetables are tender.
If the meat comes easily off the bone, feel free to serve your roast as-is; if meat is a little tough, you can either braise a bit longer, or do what I did: Remove meat from pot until it cools enough to handle, remove from the bone and cut into bite-sized pieces; return to pot to warm through. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. If desired, serve with chopped parsley as a garnish.
Two winters ago, I wrote a series of blog posts all featuring ground venison, since I’d been given 6 pounds of it from my dad. According to my first post in the series, my plan was to write a different recipe for each of the 6 packages, but somehow I fell off after three. I can’t recall what I did with the other 3 pounds, but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely there was at least one batch of chili in there.
Chili is probably the most common dish made with ground venison- I suspect some people turn to it because the powerful seasonings can mask the venison’s taste, but that hasn’t been a problem for us since my dad’s deer always taste great with no “off” or gamey flavors. We just make it because it’s easy and we tend to have most of the ingredients on hand. However, I never really considered my usual chili (which consists primarily of chopping onions and garlic and opening a bunch of cans) to be worthy of writing down a recipe.
Folks, this batch is a different story. I did rely on a couple canned ingredients, and this is still squarely in the camp of weeknight fare (even with the experimentation factor and my own slow-pokiness, it only took me an hour and a half from start to finish) but the flavors are richer, deeper and, dare I say, more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill chili. Marvin may have to make good on his mention of taking up hunting himself in order to keep us stocked with sufficient quantities of venison, because rather than quell my cravings, this just made me hungry for more. Continue reading
One of the biggest adjustments for me with this new cohabitation thing has been figuring out dinnertime. Suffice it to say that the food of my bachelorette days just doesn’t cut it when it comes to feeding a hungry guy (wait, you mean dudes aren’t down with scrambled eggs or a “big salad” and three bites of reheated lunch leftovers for dinner every night?!). So my new challenge in the kitchen is to come up with meals that are satisfying for the male half of the household but not too taxing after a day’s work*. That, and planning ahead enough to have certain ingredients on hand so as to minimize after-work errand-running that cuts into my cooking time.
That said, there’s a part of me that chafes at the thought of the fast-n-easy Rachel Ray-style school of cooking. I’d rather spend all Sunday in the kitchen making a huge pot of stew or something else we can reheat a couple times through the week. I’m fine with making the occasional quickie meal (pasta puttanesca or weeknight omelettes are favorites), but sometimes I want something a little snazzier; plus, someone complains if they feel too protein (ahem, *meat*)-deprived for too many days in a row.
Having splurged recently on some nicer-than-usual wines at Western Market, I decided to try a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while, a braised salmon in Pinot Noir from Molly Stevens’ excellent book All About Braising. Folks, I’ve sung the praises of this book and its recipes many times before, and if you haven’t yet picked it up I would highly recommend it! Although the recipe required some slicing, dicing and infusing, it was really easy and I was able to do the prep work while the side dishes (a Wehani rice and some Puy lentils) cooked. All in all I’d say the meal took a little over an hour, not too much effort considering the fantastic results.
I wasn’t sure if my skillet handle was ovenproof so I decided to do the braise on the stovetop. The salmon came out a tiny bit on the dry side (my fault, not the recipe’s), but paired with the flavorful sauce, it was still very good eats. The red rice and lentils were the perfect earthy accompaniments to the mushroom and bacon-laced wine sauce.
I was inspired a few nights later to pan-sear some venison tenderloin and make a similar pan sauce of shallots, mushrooms and wine. It’s a shame that Marvin wasn’t home to enjoy it with me; he was in NYC for his first gallery show (nice, right?) so I had the tenderloin all to myself. I would’ve waited to make the dish for us both, but due to a freezer debacle (cough*dontbuykenmore*cough) I was trying to use things up before they spoiled. I salted the meat, seared it in clarified butter to medium, then let it rest while I cooked shallots in the butter and deglazed it with red wine. The mushrooms were cooked in a separate pan while the meat was cooking, and added at the end. I ate it with the lentils and rice left over from the salmon dinner and it was nothing short of spectacular. Next year I’m begging my dad for more tenderloin! Also, I want to try one of these venison tenderloin recipes from Hank Shaw’s blog when I have the time/ inclination to get slightly fancier.
I just want to leave you with this: If you’re cooking meat in a skillet and not making a pan sauce, it’s like leaving money on the table. Any crusty bits that remain contain so much flavor and it only takes minutes to create a sauce that will have you scraping your plate. I also like to make pan sauce from chicken drippings that remain after roasting a chicken in a cast iron skillet. Red or white wine can be used, just use whatever you’re drinking. For red meat, cognac or brandy can be used instead of wine; just boil the sauce enough to get rid of any harsh boozy flavor. If you salt your meat, you shouldn’t need to salt your sauce, but taste and see. A couple turns of black pepper is de rigeur as well.
Notes: I scaled the recipe down to serve two, but this version serves four. If making for two, halve the salmon quantity and reduce the other ingredients by about 1/3.
4 wild-caught salmon filets, skin-on, each about 6 oz and about 1 ½ inches thick
4 ounces mushrooms, regular button or a mix
5 slices bacon (about 4 oz), cut into ½-inch strips
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small shallot, chopped
2 cups light, earthy red wine such as Pinot Noir or a cru Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Nouveau) (yes I know that’s bossy but you’ll thank me)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, each about 2-3 inches
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Examine the salmon to see if it contains any pinbones by running your finger down the center. If you feel any small bones, remove them with a tweezer or needle-nose pliers. Season the filets with salt and a little pepper and set aside.
Brush any dirt from the mushrooms (I like to just peel them by gently pulling the outer layer off, just don’t wash them with water). Trim the bottoms of the mushrooms and separate the caps from the stems. Thinly slice the caps and set aside. Dice the stems and reserve separately from the caps.
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Prepare the braising liquid: Select a skillet just large enough to hold the salmon filets in a single layer (12-13 inches diameter). Add half the bacon to the cold skillet and cook over medium heat until it cooks through and renders much of its fat; do not allow to crisp. Increase the heat slightly, adding the leek, carrot, shallot and mushroom stems and sauté until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to brown. Add 1 cup of the wine and the thyme and bring to a rapid simmer until the wine is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup wine and simmer an additional 5 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, fry the remaining bacon in a medium skillet until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain. Discard most of the bacon grease and add 1 Tbs butter, swirling off the heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat until the mushrooms have thrown off their liquid and become golden. Remove from pan and set aside. You will reuse this skillet to finish the sauce. so just leave it on the stove, no need to wash it.
When the sauce base has cooked, add the salmon, skin side down. Cover tightly with foil and/or a lid, and place in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the salmon by discreetly slicing into the thickest part of a filet; if you see just a bare hint of dark pink, it’s done (it will continue cooking as it rests).
Remove the salmon to a plate and cover with foil. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into the medium skillet, pressing down with a spoon to obtain as much liquid as possible. Bring to a rapid simmer for 2 minutes and reduce to a gentle simmer, whisking in the remaining 1 Tbs butter.Add the reserved bacon and mushrooms and the parsley. Taste for salt and pepper, adding if needed.
Plate the salmon and top it with the sauce; serve immediately.
With the exception of the occasional kofta or vat of chili, it’s not often that you’ll see me using ground meat as a base for recipes- no Hamburger Helper-type menus in this household. But my dad gave me several pounds of ground venison a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through them, trying new things and expanding my ground meat repertoire. My first two installments of the Venison Diaries were more experimental, but this time I decided to go thoroughly retro and make a meatloaf.
A typical “meatloaf mix” usually consists of 50% ground beef, 25% pork and 25% veal, giving a good balance of fat and flavor. For my meatloaf mix, I used 50% venison and 50% pork. I wanted to make sure the leanness of the venison was balanced out with the fattier pork so I didn’t end up with a dry loaf. However, I definitely think I could have used some veal and gone with a 50-25-25 mix as well. The recipe I used, from Cook’s Illustrated, uses a sweet and tangy (almost like BBQ sauce) glaze on the meatloaf, and also has you wrap it in bacon *drool*. To make this meatloaf extra-special, I bought some Nueske’s bacon to do the job. I first heard about Nueske’s via Matthew Amster-Burton in his book Hungry Monkey, and then my local grocery store started carrying it so I gave it a try. I wondered what could be so special about it to justify an almost $9 per pound price tag… until I tried it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary bacon. I typically buy Niman Ranch bacon because of their sustainable practices*, and their bacon is certainly good quality, but Nueske’s is on another level- it has a different texture and “feel” than most supermarket bacon, and it doesn’t shrink up nearly as much as other brands. Finally, the flavor is nothing short of sublime. (And no, I didn’t receive any freebies from Nueske’s to write this blog post… but if someone at the company is reading this, I’ll be glad to take anything you send my way!! )
I figured as long as I was making meatloaf I may as well go totally traditional in my side dishes as well, so I made some mashed potatoes and peas. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve made mashed potatoes, but I do own a potato ricer, which I put to use on some white Michigan potatoes for an unbelievably light and creamy result. The potato ricer is, yes, an extra step and an extra item to wash, but the difference is well worth it. I wish I had made a bigger batch! Even though this wasn’t a typical type of menu for me, Marvin and I both really enjoyed it and I would definitely make it again if and when I get another venison windfall.
*I was disappointed not to find anything on the Nueske’s website about how their pigs are raised. The only info I could find online was that the pigs Nueske’s uses are “raised to their specifications” in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada (not in Wisconsin, where the company is located) and fed a diet of a barley and corn mixture.
1 lb ground venison or beef
½ lb ground veal
½ lb ground pork
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large eggs
½ tsp dried thyme leaves (or use fresh and increase to 1 tsp)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
few dashes Tabasco or similar hot sauce
½ cup plain yogurt or whole milk
⅔ cup crushed saltines (about 16) or quick oatmeal, OR 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
6-8 oz thin-sliced bacon
½ cup ketchup, preferably organic/ without high fructose corn syrup
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 tsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
Make the glaze: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 350°. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Sauté the onion & garlic over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Mix the eggs, thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, milk or yogurt, and hot sauce in a medium bowl. Put the meats in a large bowl and combine with your hands (if you didn’t buy a pre-mixed meatloaf mix). Add the egg mixture, onions, parsley, and crackers or breadcrumbs; mix until evenly blended and mixture is not sticking to the bowl. If mixture sticks, add more milk 1-2 Tbs at a time until it no longer sticks. (Note: I chose to go a different route and blend the meat in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. This gave a totally different texture to the finished meatloaf, but one that I personally prefer.)
Place the meat mixture on a work surface. Wet your hands and pat the mixture into a loaf shape, approximately 9″ x 5″. Place the loaf on a foil-coated rimmed baking sheet. Brush the loaf with half the glaze (be sure not to double dip your brush since you’ll be serving the remainder of the glaze). Arrange the bacon slices crosswise over the top of the loaf, tucking the ends underneath.
Bake until the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature registers 160°, about 1 hour. Let rest 15-20 minutes before serving. Warm the remaining glaze and serve on the side.
This dish has been a long time in the making… some of you may remember that I mentioned Marvin’s mom making a version of it for Christmas Eve in ’08, and I’ve been wanting to try it ever since. She uses ground beef in her version, but I rarely ever cook with ground beef. However, I do have a freezerful of ground venison courtesy of my dad, and have been looking for different ways to use it. So far I made a really good venison & porcini mushroom ragu, and I’m sure there will be a batch or two of chili, but I wanted to be a bit experimental and I’ve been wanting to cook with yuca for quite a while now, so this casserole was born. (See this post for more about yuca.)
I call the dish “shepherd’s pie” because that’s the closest thing I’m reminded of, with the seasoned ground meat being cooked under a layer of starchy veg. The yuca is quite a bit different than potato in that it is very dense and has a lot of “chew” to it. When you mash it, it holds together almost like dough, and when it’s baked, the top gets a nice crunchy texture. Even if you don’t follow this recipe, I would encourage you to play around with yuca because it’s a fun and unique starch. My photos were not taken in the greatest lighting, so this may not look like the most attractive dish, but it’s easy and homey and familiar yet exotic all at once. By all means, if you’re not a fan of venison, use ground beef like Marvin’s mom does; my use of venison was just because that’s what I had.
This was also the fist time I had used achiote (aka annatto). I used the whole seeds to flavor some canola oil, which I then used to saute the vegetables and meat. To make achiote oil, just warm some neutral oil in a skillet (I prefer a silver skillet so you can see the color). Add some achiote seeds and gently swirl the oil until it reaches a deep orange color and becomes fragrant. Don’t let the oil get too hot or the seeds will burst and become bitter. Strain the oil before using.
Yuca Shepherd’s Pie
For the yuca layers:
For the meat layer:
1 lb ground beef or venison
2-4 Tbs achiote oil or vegetable oil
1 large white onion, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled & diced small
2 jalapenos, minced (remove pith & seeds for less heat, or sub 1/2 a green pepper for a non-spicy version)
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt & pepper
Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Cut the yuca lengthwise and then into chunks of roughly equal size. Add the yuca, garlic, onion, and a few grinds of pepper to the water. Let simmer, covered, for an hour. Check the yuca by cutting or smashing a piece- it should be a pale yellow and have no opaque white spots. You may need to cook the yuca for up to 90 minutes to get it fully cooked through. When the yuca is done, remove with a slotted spoon and discard the garlic, onion and cooking water. There will be a tough stringy core in the center of the yuca that you should easily be able to remove with your fingers. Place the yuca in the bowl of a stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to mix the yuca into a smooth paste, adding the olive oil in a thin stream. Start with 1/4 cup and add more if needed, based on the taste and consistency of the yuca. Taste for salt, adding if needed.
While the yuca is cooking, prepare the meat: Heat 2-3 Tbs oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic and carrot. Cook for a few minutes until the onion & carrot begin to soften; then add the peppers. Cook for a minute longer and add the meat, cumin, 1 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. If you’re using venison you may need to add a bit more oil to prevent sticking. Cook the meat, stirring frequently, until it is fully browned and cooked through. Stir in the tomato paste and cilantro. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.
Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9×13″ lasagna pan or other casserole dish with cooking spray, or brush with olive oil. Spread about 1/3 of the yuca over the bottom of the pan using a spatula
(if that’s not enough to cover the bottom you can use a little more; just make sure to reserve more than half for the top layer because it’ll be harder to spread). The yuca will be very sticky so it may help to lightly oil the spatula. Dump the meat in a layer over the yuca (if using beef, you may want to use a slotted spoon to drain off some of the grease). Spread the meat in an even layer, pressing it into the yuca. Take the remaining yuca and spread it over the meat. You may need to use your hands to spread and press it down; if so, you’ll want to oil your hands first. (Looking at my photos, you can see it was a challenge to get the yuca all the way out to the sides!) Lightly brush the final layer of yuca with olive oil.
Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes or until the yuca starts to become crisp and brown. If after 30 minutes the yuca is not browning, you can run it under the broiler for a minute or two to get a nice crunchy top. If you have any cilantro left over, you can use it as garnish.